As I noted in an earlier post, there is widespread speculation in the media about the link between rising food prices and diverting food grains for the manufacture of biofuels. The Washington Post has begun a series to examine the various posssible causes that have triggered the recent world food crisis. Wednesday's featured article takes a closer look at food and fuel. There was another related story in the paper that also caught my eye. That one reports that the spike in food prices has affected not only man and beast but even the gods must put up with hunger pangs - at least, in India.
NEW DELHI -- Every morning, Hindu devotees haul buckets of fresh, creamy milk into this neighborhood temple, then close their eyes and bow in prayer as the milk is used to bathe a Hindu deity. At the foot of the statue, they leave small baskets of bananas, coconuts, incense sticks and marigolds.
But recently, Ram Gopal Atrey, the head priest at Prachin Hanuman Mandir, noticed donations thinning for the morning prayers. He knew exactly why: inflation.
With prices soaring for staples such as cooking oils, wheat, lentils, milk and rice across the globe, priests like Atrey say they are seeing the consequences in their neighborhood temples, where even the poorest of the poor have long made donations to honor their faith.
"But today the common man is tortured by the increases in prices," Atrey lamented during one early morning prayer, or puja, adding that donations of milk were down by as much as 50 percent. He had recently met with colleagues from other temples, along with imams from local mosques, who reported similar experiences. "If poor people don't even have enough for bread, how will they donate milk to the gods?" he said. "This is very serious."
From Haiti to Senegal to Thailand, prices for basic food supplies have skyrocketed in recent months. The increases have been attributed to a confluence of factors including sharply rising fuel prices, droughts in food-producing countries and the diversion of some crops to produce biofuels. In India, milk prices rose because of increases in gasoline prices, which made it more expensive to transport the product from dairy farms to cities.
The food shortage and high prices are naturally a cause of great worry for families, especially those with children. But what about the gods? Some Indian Vedic gods, like their Greek counterparts are known to enjoy alcoholic beverages. Until the milk shortage disappears, could they be propitiated with another liquid offering - ethanol from corn?